The German Masters got under way on Wednesday in Berlin, typically amid plenty of furore and drama.
This year, SnookerHQ is again delighted to welcome Germany’s own Frank B. Halfar as a guest writer for the week’s action at the Tempodrom.
There was certainly a lot to take in from the opening day.
By Frank B. Halfar
At the Tempodrom
“Hello from Berlin!”
“It’s a very special moment every year, entering the Tempodrom for the first time on the much awaited occasion. The German Masters is upon us finally again, it’s snooker time in Berlin. The event provides at least one good reason to travel here right now, since Berlin’s weather in the first days of February certainly doesn’t.
“After obtaining my badge and convincing the ever-suspicious doormen that I really am one of the stewards, a first visit to the players lounge awaits. This is where just about everyone meets – the players obviously, but also the organisers, officials, referees, and last but not least, the humble helpers. The general hullo is somewhat sombre this year, as two awful pieces of news make the rounds. Ding Junhui’s mum has died, and Jimmy White lost his flat in a huge fire, complete with all belongings safe only for what he had packed for Berlin. At the very least, this included his cue.
“The very first session is a somewhat subdued affair, as the vast arena is way less than half filled. This must not be bad, as a colleague of mine has put it: ‘the attendees of Wednesday afternoon are true connoisseurs.’ They also go ‘ah’ and ‘oh’, but not after each ball, like it’s sometimes observed in the full house of the weekend. These people gasp much more knowingly and selectively…
“After the intro of Emcee Rolf Kalb, who reliably tells the same joke every year (‘the audience can be seen on TV, so if you’re here with someone with whom you shouldn’t be here…’) we witness the first entrance of the gladiators. Of the six players assigned this premiere session, Martin Gould is by far the most at ease. He grins and raises his arm to greet the audience, looking round the entire arena once. As defending champion, he has pride of place, and the first match at the central, TV table. His opponent Jamie Jones is dispatched of in a rather quick whitewash, and Theo Selbertinger, the lanky Bavarian who’s one of Germany’s rising referee stars, has an easy and quick task.
“Seconds after the play has begun, there is the first score, as Stephen Maguire downs a long pot on his very first stroke. His opening is impressive, but he can’t hold the pace for very long, as his opponent Ali Carter soon dominates their encounter. It’s a fun match to watch, with some showcase flukes as well as near misses. Of course, accompanied with appropriate ‘ahs’ and ‘ohs’. Add to that an alarming bout of coughing from someone in the audience – think asthma plus acute choking plus Berlin February cold. Luckily, the attack subsides after a while.
“The third table shows that it really, really isn’t Jimmy White’s day, as he loses to Robin Hull in a decider. His stoic professionalism is more than impressive. It shows once more why he has been such a beloved person on the circuit for so long now.
“The evening session boasts a slightly larger audience with play on all five tables for the first time. Ronnie O’Sullivan unsurprisingly plays on the TV table, and really no other player is welcomed by the fans with such vigour. I admit I was thrilled as well when I had seen him a little earlier, just peeking into the catering room.
“But the first real headline generator happens on table five, where Tom Ford achieves a maximum right in the second frame. My second maximum in the Tempodrom, and the second time I practically miss it, being assigned to the other end of the hall, and paying attention only after the other players all stopped their matches to look at the last pots until it is a 147. After being congratulated by all, Ford wisely leaves the arena to cool down a bit after the drama. He leads 4-0 at the mid-session interval, but during the break I have a chance to see his opponent Peter Ebdon consuming an apple. It’s quite something, Ebdon makes this a meditative exercise, as if only he and the apple exist. It does the trick, to an extent, as he avoids the threatened whitewash and manages to win two frames before this match is over and the maximum man Tom Ford advances to the last 16.
“The table of the ‘young Asians’ Zhao Xintong and Akani Songsermsawad delivers a fast 5-0 outcome – the young guns really make it quick – and it’s the Chinese who dominates this encounter so ruthlessly. The matches I get to watch up close are a mixed bag. Ryan Day meets an indisposed Mark Allen and wins 5-1 in spite of not a few errors, and Ricky Walden and John J Astley treat us to a match, well, that is sort of the definition of scrappy. Neither player seems to succeed in longer breaks, errors abound. First Walden leads 3-0, then Astley catches up only to lose in a decider. The whole thing lasts way past midnight, and the end is watched by only the few really stubborn punters. I shudder at the thought of the night bus on which I now depend to get home. It runs only every half hour!
“The sensation, while it occurred long before Messrs. Astley and Walden were finally finished, I save for the conclusion. Ronnie has one of those nights where he suddenly loses his game, and his opponent, snooker street fighter Mark King, who did not look in awe for a moment even when he was trailing, takes full advantage. From 4-1 down King wins three frames in a row to force a decider.
“While referee Marcel Eckhardt prepares the table for this drama, O’Sullivan has left the arena and at some rather late moment it occurs to King he wants to leave as well. He whispers something to the referee and practically runs out of the auditorium, producing a little mirth in the audience. Then he actually returns even before Ronnie does. With the loss looming, Ronnie gets cheered every single time he comes to the table, but to no avail. He pots the odd ball, but a larger break just won’t be summoned. The favourite is out in the first round. Thunderous, well as thunderous as the audience size permits, applause for a beaming Mark King.
“Finally, a few moments I’d like to share with you. I pondered how some players deal with their less than strong moments. I saw a Ryan Day almost imperceptibly shaking his head with high frequency, a Ronnie O’Sullivan grimacing and displaying his tongue aplenty, and a Ricky Walden smiling ruefully at his own shortcoming. Well, two of the three actually won their matches today!
“So on the first day we already boast a maximum break and the fall of a giant. The Tempodrom magic is at it again! It sure does still seem to work.”